The Million Woman Walkout

Column by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers on 29 June 2023 0 Comments

Just when you thought things could not get worse, the Southern Baptists have declared that not only can women not be pastors, or anyone in a “position of authority over men,” but that SBC churches already led by women should be purged from the denomination.

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As we deconstruct the Bible and see that it is not inherent and not to be taken literally, why do we still have saints?


Dear Thomas,

An interesting question, Why do we have saints?  Thanks for posing it, Thomas.

I think it is a much bigger issue than what and who is in the Bible, however.  What we know of people in the Bible whom we call saints and their lives of daring, courage, wisdom, and generosity are there because they are worthy of emulation.  They are models of what we can aspire to be.

Of course, they and their stories are very diverse, covering many hundreds of years, say from Moses through Saints Peter or Paul or John.  And they cease with the end of the Scriptures around the end of the first century.  Some were immense figures like Abraham or Moses, Esther or Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible, carriers of great stories of divine revelation.  Or St. Paul or St. Peter or Mary Magdalene (about whom Aquinas says, “the boldness of the woman was amazing”).  Or Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose position is like that of the great prophets of Israel.

The details of Paul’s life, for example, some recounted in his epistles and some in the Book of Acts, are compelling both about his personality and character and about the struggles he faced and transformations he underwent personally with religious groups as well as ultimately the Roman empire itself.  Add this to his writings - which were, after all, public letters and often quite personal - and you have an alluring story to identify with.

People like biographies and even snatches of other people’s life stories - especially if they have demonstrated courage and ingenuity and born testimony to their beliefs in sometimes a heroic fashion.  We need models to look up to and a variety of them since humans come in many varied personalities, after all.  And this is what the saints offer us.

Hagiography, however, like everything else humans give birth to, has a shadow side to it also.  It sometimes tempts us to put people on pedestals which can be a device for getting them out of our hair so we can run from our own greatness.  When I write about saints, I also try to include what I call their “clay feet,” or very human side that includes weaknesses.  That helps to ground them as real and someone we can identify with - that and seeing them in the context of their time.  Lesson learned: Be wary of pedestal piety and projection.

It is interesting that the word “saint” in the Christian Bible was first applied to all believers, and this is a reminder that we are all involved in our pathways to holiness, deeper meaning, and courage in our efforts to bring peace and healing, and compassion to the world.  Sometimes this demands great things of us, and sometimes it is a steady, day by day, giving that calls us forward.

Also, our models of holiness evolve as history evolves.  Truly great souls often redefine what holiness means as culture evolves.  For example, what light did Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi, or Dorothy Day shed not only on history but on the meaning of saintliness or holiness?

Here is a useful practice I propose: Make a list of the saints you have known in your lifetime--not only those from history or even big names in our time but people you have known and interacted with.  Meditate on what they have taught you.

~ Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox




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